US warship to be named after Filipino Medal of Honor awardee

By Jo Erlinda Maufit

WASHINGTON/BERKELEY, California – Filipinos again have won another recognition after their campaign for the naming of a US Navy ship after a Filipino sailor has won the support of US Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro.

This as Secretary del Toro  announced that a future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer will be named USS Telesforo Trinidad (DDG 139) in honor of Fireman Second Class Telesforo Trinidad who saved two crew members of the USS San Diego when their ship caught fire in 1915 off the coast of California.

The announcement was made as Filipinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month,

Trinidad holds the special distinction of being the first and only Asian American of Filipino descent in the U.S. Navy to receive a Medal of Honor for his heroic act.

Before the announcement, the campaign to name the first U.S. Navy warship after the bemedalled Filipino sailor gathered support from 50 retired flag officers who sent a letter to Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro seeking approval for the initiative.

The  support underscores this year’s theme for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month of “Advancing Leaders Through Collaboration.”

Retired Major General Antonio Taguba, Chairman of the Filipino Veterans Recognition Project (FILVETREP), wrote the letter to the US Navy Secretary on behalf of 50 retired U.S. Armed Forces flag officers representing the U.S. Navy, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Air Force.

FILVETREP is the same group which spearheaded the passage of the Congressional Gold Medal for World War II Filipino veterans, which was signed into law in 2016 and has been enforced since with the award of medal to surviving veterans and those who had passed away.

Among the flag officers who supported the campaign were Admiral Thomas Fargo, Admiral William Fallon and Admiral Harry Harris, all previous commanders of the U.S. Pacific Command.  In addition, Admiral Fallon was also previously the Commander of the U.S. Central Command.

On Twitter, US Navy Secretary del Toro wrote: I am extremely honored to name one of our next Arleigh Burke Destroyers after Petty Officer Telesforo Trinidad, the #Navy’s only Filipino #MedalofHonor recipient! We remember Trinidad’s life and legacy today during #AAPIHeritageMonth

“My first time learning about Petty Officer Trinidad’s story was as a midshipman at the Naval Academy and since being sworn in as Secretary, I have wanted to honor his heroic actions by naming a ship after him,” said Del Toro as reported by ABS-CBN.

“This ship and her future crew will be a critical piece in strengthening our maritime superiority while also emphasizing the rich culture and history of our naval heritage,” he added.

“Having a ship named after such a significant figure highlights our diverse culture and that our people will always be our strategic advantage against any adversary,” Del Toro said.

“I hope the naming of this ship is a beacon for not only Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders but for all our Sailors, Marines, and civilians who serve across the Department of the Navy. The service and sacrifice of these men and women have made our military and our nation stronger and better,” he said.

It was gathered two retired senior military officers, Navy Capt. Ron Ravelo, the only Filipino-American who held command of a US Navy nuclear aircraft carrier, and retired US Air Force Col. Nonie Cabana, spearheaded the campaign to name a future US Navy ship after Trinidad.

Historian Cecilia Gaerlan earlier said remembering Trinidad’s heroics, especially on Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, celebrates the generations of Filipinos who served in uniform.

“We have to recognize that since 1901 when President McKinley signed the executive order creating the insular force, the Filipinos have been officially in the US Navy since 1901, that’s 120 years so I think it’s about time the Filipinos get recognized for serving the US Navy faithfully and loyally for 120 years,” Gaerlan said.

In a statement for the USS Telesforo Trinidad Campaign (USSTTC), Gaerlan said Fireman Second Class Trinidad holds the special distinction of being the first and only Asian American of Filipino descent in the U.S. Navy to receive a Medal of Honor for his heroic act of saving two shipmates during two boiler explosions onboard the USS San Diego in the California Coast.  It was authorized under General Order Number 142 signed by the Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels on April 1, 1915.  It serves as a reminder that heroic deeds can happen every day and not just during times of war.

The naming of a U.S. Navy warship after Trinidad will be a historic first for the U.S. Navy to honor the legacy of its only Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander (AANHPI) enlisted sailor of Filipino descent who received the Medal of Honor.  Sailors of Filipino descent represent the largest percentage of foreign-born recruits in the U.S. Navy.  The naming of a ship after Trinidad will validate the long history of service by generations of Filipinos in the U.S. Navy since 1901 as well as the Navy’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

The USS Telesforo Trinidad Campaign has also received support from about 100 lawmakers, major veterans’ national organizations like the VFW, the American Legion, the American GI Forum and the Disabled American Veterans.